Full transcript: Rachel Maddow talks with Vice President Joe Biden
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Note: 9/15 The video of Vice President Biden discussing Iraq will be added on Thursday, 9/16.
RACHEL MADDOW: Mr. Vice President, thank you so much for your time. Really appreciate that.
VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I’m delighted to be. I’m glad you’re back in it.
RACHEL MADDOW: The Republican nominee for your old Senate seat in Delaware is not long-time Congressman Mike Hassel (PH) but rather-- Christine O’Donnell (PH), who you have run against in the past. Her own party has derided her as "unelectable to any office." And they, in fact, ran robocalls (?) that called her a fraud. Very surprising result. How do you explain that-- that vote in your home state?
VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: It’s hard to explain. First of all, there-- we’re a single Congressional district state. We’re a small state. Only five smaller. 185,000 roughly Republicans-- registered in the State of Delaware, closed primary. She got roughly-- what? 25,000-28,000 votes out of 50,000 cast. I’m confident that if Republican folks out there really thought there was a shot here and they showed up, I think Mike-- if every Republican had a vote, Castle (PH), I think, would have one 130 to-- to-- to 50.
But the truth is that-- it’s real tough for the Republican Party. It really-- it’s kind of hung on a shingle. You know, no moderates need apply. It’s-- and it’s sort of spawned a-- I don’t know-- a tone in politics that is-- not helpful. To getting things done. And we’re-- and we’re a moderate state. And we-- and we thank God we have a really first rate candidate.
This guy is solid. He is honorable. He’s incredibly well-educated. He’s done a great job running the largest county. They end up with a AAA bond rating. They-- he’s paid all the bills. Eliminated the deficit. This is a really solid guy. And so, that’s the good news for us.
RACHEL MADDOW: But-- this has been-- a very fun and easy year to be a pundit. Because as a pundit, you only have to say one of two things. You either say, "Boy, those Democrats sure are lucky the Republicans keep-- keep-- picking these unelectable candidates." Or you say, "Those Democrats sure are unlucky they can’t compete with all that enthusiasm on the right." Now, you and-- and the Administration obviously can’t affect who Republicans choose as their candidates, but what is your role? What do you see as your role in terms of trying to enthuse the Democratic base?
VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Well, first of all, I think the two premises are both correct-- or both incorrect. One, is that I-- I wouldn’t sell short these candidates. I think that in my state-- this new Republican candidate’s gonna have-- an awful lot of money. I think you’re gonna see it pouring in. And these third party operations that are gonna probably spend more money than both parties in some states are gonna be in there.
So, I think they’re gonna-- I think-- we’re gonna take it very, very seriously. It’s a big mistake not to take it seriously, number one. Now, number two, what I’m doing, I’ve been in to over 80 congressional, and Senate, and gubernatorial races. And one of the reasons I want to be on your show is to tell the progressives out there, you know, get in gear, man. First of all, there’s a great deal at stake. I’ve been around the Senate a long time. We fought to regulate tobacco. We fought for hate crime laws. We fought to make sure that kids get insured. We fought for all the things that we finally got done in one year.
And they’re all at risk. If they take over the House and the Senate, don’t kid yourself, they’ve made it really clear. Pete Sessions said they’re-- excuse me, Congressman Sessions, when asked what would they do if they took over the House, he said we’d have the exact same agenda. And look there-- there’s a lot at stake here. And-- and our progressive base, you have-- you should not stay home. It-- you better get energized. Because the consequences are serious for the outcome of the things we care most about.
And I didn’t mention half the stuff we’ve gotten done. You know, look, it’s-- I think when Barack got-- and look, this-- this is one exceptional public figure. I mean, Barack Obama, this guy is amazing. But think about it. I think there was-- he-- he did so well, won so big, I think a lot of people thought, "Well, man, it’s just gonna like fall out of the sky."
RACHEL MADDOW: Right.
VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: What he brought out of the sky, down to earth, were really significant progressive goals that have been met. More to do. More to do. And so, I think it’s time for our base to say, "Hey, man, take a look. This opposition is for real."
RACHEL MADDOW: Why hasn’t that happened organically? I mean, we’re looking at numbers now that suggest that Republican turnout at the primaries is outstripping Democratic turnout in the primaries. That’s the most concrete measure you get of enthusiasm. People willing to take time out of their day to go vote and do it. Why do you think that hasn’t happened organically?
VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I-- I tell you, it’s hap-- not happened organically for-- for two reasons. My grand pop used to say, "People don’t focus on the general election until after-- after the World Series," which used to be in early October. The truth of the matter is a lot of people are hurting. A lot of people are angry. A lot of people are worried and frightened. And with good reason. I mean, as much progress as we made, there’s so much more that has to be done.
And so, they don’t want to make a choice now. They haven’t focused on a choice. What they’ve focused on is the people in power, their dissatisfaction with more-- not more progress having been made. But here’s the deal, remember-- you’re too young, but there used to be a Mayor of Boston, and his name was Kevin White (PH). And they asked him in his second run for election, you know-- a tough question.
He said, "Look, don’t compare me to the Almighty, compare me to the Alternative." (LAUGH) Don’t compare me to the Almighty, compare me to the Alternative. People haven’t wanted to make that choice. They don’t want to focus yet. They don’t want to-- it’s like, "I don’t want to be bothered-- I’m angry." But they’re gonna now, watch them, starting in the beginning of October, they’re gonna focus. And the alternatives are stark between a Democratic-led House and a Democratic-led Senate and a Republican-led House and Senate.
And I’ve been saying all along, Rachel. I know I’ve been getting beat up for saying this. We are going to retain control of the House. We are gonna retain control of the Senate. Because when the American People focus on the alternative, it’s gonna be absolutely clear to them there is no alternative. And I really mean that. I really mean that. I believe that with every fiber of my being.
RACHEL MADDOW: With-- at a fundraiser this week, you-- you said-- this is not your father’s Republican Party. You used the construction The Republican Tea Party, as if those two things are merged. Should-- in terms of defining that alternative, in terms of sharpening the differences between the parties, making this not a referendum just on state of the country, but choice, as you’re saying.
VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Yes.
RACHEL MADDOW: Should the Democrats welcome a chance to really engage on big qui-- questions of what government is for when we’ve got so many people depressed on unemployment, so many people depressed on food stamps, all these safety net things that people need, because of the bad economy right now. And on the right, it’s a wholesale assault on the very idea of a safety net. Including wanting to get rid of Social Security and Medicare.
VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: The answer’s yes. And as you’ve even said on your show that Biden seems to be swinging a lot out there. Now, I’m-- I-- I’m ready for this fight. And what I do when I go into these districts where these Congressmen, Republican Congressmen vote against this health care. I say, "Look, the choice is clear. I want Republican So-and-so, Congressman So-and-so, explain to the people in his district, who lost their jobs through no fault of their own, because of the financial chicanery of Wall Street. Because of this-- this Ponzi scheme they had masquerading as a policy. Tell them why they should not get unemployment insurance."
Every district (UNINTEL) they say, "Oh, no, no. We’re not-- we’re not against unemployment insurance. We’re not against it. We’re not against making sure that there’s COBRA or that they have health care. We’re not against it." When you press them, they’re not against it. That’s why this fight-- I think the probably marquis fight is gonna be on taxes. Think about this.
Here you have Mitch McConnell offering-- talk-- talking about the deficit. Offering a tax bill that the Washington Post said today, if it were to be passed, tax cuts for the very wealthy and (UNINTEL), if it were to be passed, would create a hole in the deficit bigger than the Recovery Act and the health care bill combined. Let me put this in perspective. We want a middle class tax cut. If you’re making $50,000 a year and you’re a family of four, you get $2,100.
That’s the difference between being able to have meat a couple times a week. Being able to pay your utility bill. Making sure you keep your (UNINTEL)-- $2,100 matters. You know where 50 percent of the tax cut for the top bracket go? And that’s $350 billion? The people whose average income is $8.3 million a year. And they’re gonna get a $350,000 tax break. What are they gonna do with that? That they couldn’t do already? But yet, somebody, a family of four, making $100,000, they have two kids in school. They get a $4,100 tax break. It matters to them. It matters. I want this fight. I want this fight.
RACHEL MADDOW: Does that mean that repea-- letting the Bush tax cuts expire for the richest people in the country, while pushing for their extension, the middle class tax cut for everybody else, is that a black and white issue? Is that a-- we haven’t heard a veto threat, for example, from the President on that.
VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: It is a black and white issue.
RACHEL MADDOW: It’s a black and white issue?
VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: It’s a black and white issue.
RACHEL MADDOW: Is that something that the Administration’s gonna go to the mat for?
VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Yes, absolutely. And look, here’s the deal. The deal is that if you think about it in sort of black and white terms, it also points out the p-- the hypocrisy of the Republicans talking about deficits. Remember, these are the guys who put two wars and a prescription drug bill on a credit card, plus a tax cut. The day we walked into office, we inherited a deficit of $1.3 trillion. Before we turned the lights on in the West Wing, we had, in the previous seven months, lost 3,750,000 jobs. And folks, you know, what we gotta make clear to people is these guys are straightforward. They’re not bad-- they’re not bad-- they’re not-- opposition-- they’re not bad guys.
But they really believe what the leader of the Republican’s campaign committee said. "We are going to reinstate the exact same agenda." Look, this would be a different fight if they said, "You know, the Bush policies really dropped us in a hole so deep that it’s just this short much-- this short of a depression. And, you know, we don’t like the Democrat answers, be we offer these-- these answers that are different." They’re not. They’re the same. "We don’t like the Democrat--" I know what they’re against. I don’t know what they’re for yet. That’s-- all different. I-- I mean this literally. What are they for that’s different than they have been for the previous eight years?
RACHEL MADDOW: If I was running against-- against Democrats, if I was running as a Republican politician, I would do everything that I could to avoid saying what I was for.
VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Exactly right.
RACHEL MADDOW: Because what you want people to do is focus on what--
VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Exactly right.
RACHEL MADDOW: --they’re dissatisfied with.
VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Exactly right.
RACHEL MADDOW: And put all that on the Democrats. So, it comes down to sharp Democrats-- surround-- Democratic strategist (UNINTEL) sharpening the focus on the who Republicans are.
VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Exactly right.
RACHEL MADDOW: It seems to me like the most interesting thing about Republicans right now is that it is impossible to be a moderate and to sustain reelection. So, you had a lot of allies in the Senate across the ais-- across the aisle. People like Dick Luger (PH) and Chuck Hagel (PH). Did those bipartisan relationships, when there were some either moderates or at least people who were friendly across the aisle. But (UNINTEL) have an actual benefit to the country? Or did that just make it nicer to be a Senator? Does it just improve your working environment? ‘Cause those things are never gonna happen again.
VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: No-- well, I hope-- I hope-- I’m afraid they’re not gonna happen soon. But I hope we’re wrong about they’re not gonna happen again. I think they did have a great deal of benefit-- to-- to the country in substantive ways. You know? In terms of-- our willingness-- where all the stuff that Bush did, there was still the willingness of-- of folks you named to-- to try to cut a different path in American foreign policy. To try to cut a different path on-- on-- on social issues.
To try to cut a different path on the extreme positions that are being-- were being pushed-- even then. But now, they’ve sort of doubled down. With those moderates gone, it’s enabled them to double down. I mean, look-- look at (UNINTEL) magazine article about the President. If-- if you read it, the article-- reads like science fiction. That here-- you know, Barack Obama--
RACHEL MADDOW: The Kenyan anti-colonialist (?)--
VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: A Kenyan anti-colonialist-- a father who was a drunkard, who was (UNINTEL), is now reincarnated-- I forget the exact phrase, in the White House. It’s all being channeled through. And guys like Newt Gingrich repeating that garbage. I mean, this is-- this-- this is kind of what’s happened on the Republican side. I mean, it’s gotten to the point where-- you know, it’s the same old playbook.
When you can’t compete in ideas, what you do is the same playbook of the conservative playbook. You try to delegitimize the other guy. That’s what’s going on. The attempt to delegitimize one of the most talented men to enter American politics in three generations. They did the same thing with Bill Clinton. Remember? Bill Clinton was part of a "drug network" and-- drug dealers in Arkansas. Bill Clinton was somehow complicitous (SIC) in the murder of an individual. I mean, they-- they-- you know, when you looked at the-- at-- at-- at these guys, I mean, it was all about delegitimizing. And one-- one of the--
RACHEL MADDOW: It worked. It did weaken the Clinton Presidency. (UNINTEL).
VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: It did. But it didn’t work. It ultimately didn’t work. He was elected two terms. And during his term, we created millions of jobs. The middle class folks actually saw their incomes go up. You really saw a change in our foreign policy. We were respected. I mean-- so, it didn’t work. And it’s not gonna work this time. But it will work if we’re silent. It will work if we’re silent. And I know I sometimes get criticized for going out and punching back. Well, let me tell you something. I learned a long time ago, you cannot underestimate these guys. You cannot sit back and just take the punch.
RACHEL MADDOW: When the punch is insane. When the punch is, "The President is secretly foreign. Or the President is secretly a space alien." Or whatever-- whatever the-- the flavor-- the flavor of the week is in there. What’s the best way to punch back? In-- in-- in-- in storytelling, in making effective, memorable news stories about this sort of thing, usually the most fun thing to do is to talk about the person who has come up with that science fiction. Sort of name and shame them. Try to make them famous for it.
That’s not the way it works in politics, because to do that, you guys would have to be elevating these sort of smear merchants who are coming up with these things. So, how do you respond when the question’s about the birth certificate or anything else like that?
VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Well, the way you respond is go and try to focus on the ideas, substantive ideas, the smear merchants are peddling. To point out that this isn’t about the accusation they’re making, it’s about delegitimization to try to give an opportunity for their argument to win without having to make it.
And so, it seems to me it’s a little bit like-- again, I-- I have known Newt Gingrich for years. I am stunned. I really am. I am stunned he bought into this-- into this playbook. I mean, there is such-- seems like there’s such a desperation on the Republican side to pander to the lowest common denominator that-- I just-- it is-- and by the way-- my wife always says-- I say, "Look, I have great faith in the American People’s judgment." And she’d look at me and say, you know, "Would you have as much faith had you lost?" (LAUGH)
But the truth of the matter is, I do. The American People will see through this. But what they want to know from us, they want to know from us is we want to fight to keep going. We want to fight for our agenda. We care enough about this to fight back. And the best way to fight back is with the facts. It’s that old-- old cliché. Harry Truman said, you know, they yell, "Give ‘em hell, Harry." And he yelled back, "I’m not gonna give ‘em hell. I’m just gonna tell ‘em the truth, they’re gonna think it’s hell."
RACHEL MADDOW: Let me ask you about fighting on an issue that has been a thorny political one and that is-- Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. The Administration very firm in its stance that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell should be repealed. Are you personally involved in trying to get it past the Senate next week? In that defense authorization (UNINTEL)?
VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Absolutely. I was-- personally involved in getting it out of committee. Look, I-- I don’t think only think we should-- we should repeal it. I think everyone who was fired should be able to reinstated if they wanted to. I just think that-- look, there’s 20 nations in the world that are our allies that allow openly gay and lesbian people to be able to-- to function. I mean, here we have fired hundreds of translators, when we’re out there trying to figure out how under God’s name to find enough people to speak everything from Farsi to Erdu (PH) to-- I mean, this is absolutely mindless what we’re doing.
We’re gonna get a chance. I think we have the votes. When it comes up in the Defense Authorization Bill. I know this sounds like this is-- this is-- you know, Senate speak, I apologize. There’s gonna be a vote on a bill, authorizing spending for the Defense Department. In that bill, there is a provision to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. End it. Bury it. Now, the Republicans are gonna introduce, at some point, an amendment to strike it from the bill.
We’ve got the votes to defeat the. We’ve got the votes to defeat that. Then the Republicans if they are as foolish as I think they may be, then they may try to hold up the Defense Authorization Bill. And they’re gonna probably filibuster that. I believe that at that point the issue is, "Are these guys so out there that they’re willing to punish the Defense Department and the fighting women and men who we have in Afghanistan, which you just-- visited, Iraq?" I mean, that’s-- that’s the frame, but we have enough votes to sustain support for repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Vote. And we’re just gonna push it as hard as we can.
RACHEL MADDOW: In-- in terms of the-- the timing of that, if that goes as you say it’s possible that it could go. If that repeal happens, the timing is that the Defense Department is studying the issue through December. They’ve got another, I think, 60 days or something that they-- after which they would have to delay any repeal process.
So, we’d be looking at, best case scenario for repeal, would be sometime in the spring. With the-- with the policy under such intense scrutiny, that study underway at the Defense Department, progress being made both in the courts and politically, why not suspend the discharges of people under the policy now, pending that Defense Department review? Why keep kicking people out now while all of this movement is happening towards ending the policy?
VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Because that is the compromise we basically had to make to get the votes to finally repeal it. In other words, everybody’s looking for, in my view, if I could just wave a wand, it would just be flat repeal. No one else would be able to suspend it. And everyone who was suspended, would be able to come back if they wanted to.
But the truth of the matter is, we had to build a consensus for this. Working very hard on the telephone. Calling people (UNINTEL). And everybody’s looking forward to the orderly elimination of this law. I would prefer it not be orderly. I prefer it just end, boom, done. But that’s why that hasn’t happened. It’s resulted in us getting over 55 votes, I think we’ll get 55 vote, to flat repeal it. And to send a statement to the country and to all the world that a majority of the elected members of the United States Congress and the President and Vice President of the United States think this is a bad policy. That’s why-- that’s why it’s played out through the legislative process the way it has.
RACHEL MADDOW: Ask you about another-- another military issue. I know you’re just-- out of a meeting with General Ordierno (PH).
VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Yep.
RACHEL MADDOW: The Departed (?) Commander of the U.S. You’ve been-- you’ve been in Iraq a number of times, including quite recently. You told the New York Times last week, they published the transcript of you speaking with them about Iraq. And you said-- "The bottom line is there are a lot of badass, 50,000 troops that are left. These guys can shoot straight. 50,000 troops in country is still a big, big contingent." With-- with 50,000, as you put it, badass troops--
VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Guys who can shoot. And women who can shoot.
RACHEL MADDOW: Guys who can definitely shoot. I was just there. I know they--
VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: And the women can shoot, too, by the way.
RACHEL MADDOW: Oh, yeah. (LAUGH) And they-- and they are in-- they are in peril. Since the handover, we have had U.S. killed in action. It’s have had U.S. wounded in action. Does it undercut their service and their sacrifice to-- to say, "This is no longer a combat mission"? Why do we need to use that phraseology when it seems like they’re in combat?
VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: No, I-- I tell you why we have to use the phraseology, because-- the Iraqis, we’ve trained up 650,000 Iraqi forces. They actually-- and-- and here’s the point. And I know you know this. They have been taking over since January of last year. We have made a commitment, we made a firm commitment to the Iraqi People and the American People. One, we get all combat troops out of the city last year. We would get-- we would bring down from 150,000 to 50,000, which we’ve done, troops in the country this-- by this-- end of this August.
And all 50,000 remaining will be out by the end of next year. That is done for three reasons. One, because it’s time to turn this responsibility over to the Iraqis, to take the lead. We’re there in support. We are not there setting the missions. They’re setting missions. We support them. It is still a dangerous place to be. But we’re talking about 150 attacks countrywide, instead of 1,500 a day down. It’s fundamentally changed.
It is not nearly as dangerous. We’ve turned over roughly 35 bases to the Iraqis. We have fundamentally shifted our positions, where we are located. So, we’re in a very different role. It’s a support role. But we are there in case the Iraqis need additional help, to use our combat. And by the way, it was used recently, you know-- so-- so, it-- it really isn’t the-- the technical definition of-- of the combat lead, means that you’re-- you’re the commander out there, leading the troops. The Iraqis are behind you. And you’re saying up over the hill and you’re leading the way.
We’re not doing that anymore. But it was very important to-- for the sovereignty of the Iraqis to let them know we recognize the fact they are now capable. They are capable. We’ll continue to train them. We’ll continue to help them. But by the end of next year, we’re out, we’re gone. And so, it may be, you know-- a bit of a misnomer. But in-- in literal, military terms, we are no longer in a combat lead position. We are doing support. We are protecting American facilities, the embassies. We are protecting American personnel and American citizens. And we’re training Iraqis.
RACHEL MADDOW: One last question. I know your time is short. But on the issue of Iraq, having come back from there. I felt like, if I forget all the history, and I just think in very, very broad strokes about the fact that we have had seven and a half years of American presence in Iraq, a trillion dollars, all of those lives lost, all of the-- everything that was spent there, in every sense.
To be leaving there with there being no electricity in Baghdad and the suffering that that causes the Iraqi people. The effect that that has on prospects of stability and peace and civil-- civil society taking hold in Iraq after all the fears-- all these years. Electricity seems to me not just one of a list of things. It seems like the thing that we could most do for the Iraqi People, if we could do anything. Why hasn’t that been the U.S. priority? To leave them with at least that to remember us by?
VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Well, by-- by the way, we will. By the time we leave, we will. Number one. Two-- I’ve been in there-- 13-- I don’t know, 14-15 times. There is a great deal more electricity than there was when the war first started. And when there was--
RACHEL MADDOW: (UNINTEL) in Baghdad.
VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Well--
RACHEL MADDOW: Baghdad, Saddam gave Baghdad a lot of power--
VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: No, no, no. No. But--
RACHEL MADDOW: --than the rest of the country.
VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: But-- but nation wide. Nation wide. Thirdly, what’s happened as we-- as the Iraqi-- as we and now the Iraqis (UNINTEL)-- eliminate the-- the Al Qaeda that’s left in Iraq as well as the-- there-- there-- there’s a difference between terrorism and insurgency. The insurgency was out there trying to form (UNINTEL) a new civil war. It hadn’t worked. It hadn’t taken root. And-- but they were also doing a great deal of damage to the electrical infrastructure, the electrical grid, the delivery of services.
This is gonna just get better and better and better. But it’s a long process. And we’re gonna-- look, when-- when we leave Iraq next year, we are not-- we are leaving them militarily, but we are significantly ramping up our civilian presence. I mean, significantly. And we are working-- I conduct a meeting once a month with the-- our folks in Iraq, as well as with our-- every cabinet member.
I have the-- the Secretary of Commerce, the Secretary of Education, the Secretary of Treasury, the Secretary of-- of-- Agriculture. We’re all there, working now with Iraqis, providing for the ability to help them build their institutions so they can function. Including how to make the electrical grid function. So, that is a process, we’re not walking away from that. We are-- we are increasing our civilian commitment. And we’re trying to work out what they call a-- you know, a strategic arrangement long term with them that is not military, but it is on the civilian side.
And look, the Iraqis are not in a position now, but by the year 2013, they’re gonna be in surplus. By the year 2015, ’16, ’17, and ’18, they’ll-- they have enough natural resources to be pumping as much oil as Saudi Arabia. So, this is about stabilizing them. Getting a functioning government in place. Having eliminated the insurgency. Putting the Iraqis in a position they can take care of their own physical security. And now helping them build their institutions. This is gonna work.
RACHEL MADDOW: It’s gonna take a long time.
VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: It is take-- absolutely. Nothing easy about it. But we’re bringing those kids home, including my son. (LAUGH)
RACHEL MADDOW: Mr. Vice President, thank you so much for your time.
VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Thank you.
RACHEL MADDOW: It’s a real honor to have this much time with you.
VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Well, thank you. Thank you.
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